Niagara Falls: from honeymoon to Love Canal and back by RR Roll

Wasteland to parkland: the Cherry Farm/River Road Remediation by JG Goeddertz, JH Kyles, MS Raybuck

Niagara River toxics 2000 by Niagara River Secretariate

Involving youth in water quality issues by J Spisiak

Remedial action plans in Lake Ontario Basin

Coarse monomedia filtration: a solution to wet weather flow by BT Smith and KM Miller

Water resources management history project by RD Hennigan

Managing Mercury in Erie County by MC Rossi

People and places

President's message by AJ Zabinski

Executive director's report by P Cerro-Reehil

WEF news

Fall 2000 — Vol. 30, No. 3


Niagara Falls: from honeymoon to Love Canal and back

by Richard R. Roll, PE

Quick reference
Web extra: Niagara's explorers, naturalists, tourists, and loonies
- Hydropower production and industrial development
- Rise of PASNY
- Water quality management
Web extra: The connection of wastewater and power
- Evolution of the area and future challenges
- What will the future bring?
Web extra: Evolution of Niagara Falls' public water supply
- References

Still a wonder. The American Falls, NY

Many things probably come to mind when you hear the name Niagara Falls. Some of them might include the title of "Honeymoon Capital of the World," the Love Canal nightmare, hydroelectric power, daredevil stunts, or perhaps a Three Stooges routine. The images evoke a wide range of emotions from humor to wonder to astonishment to grief. Much of the area's colorful past and hopeful future can be tied to the natural wonder of the waterfalls and mankind's use of them over the past few centuries.
Sprays    The waterfalls and the gorge have provided background scenery for many movies over the years. Films which have featured the area prominently include "Niagara" (with Marilyn Monroe), "The Great Niagara" (with Richard Boone), and recently, "Canadian Bacon" (with John Candy, Alan Alda, Rhea Pearlman). Film producers and producer wanna-be's are encouraged to contact the Mayor's Office to discuss their ideas for mutual fame and fortune.

 Web extra: Niagara's explorers, naturalists, tourists, and loonies

Hydropower production and industrial development

References cite Chambert Joncaire, Jr. as the first to use the power of the falls, constructing a short canal to feed his sawmill in 1757. The sawmill was later repaired and used by John Steadman, who also stocked Iris Island with goats, prompting its name change to Goat Island. In 1807 Augustus Porter constructed a grist mill on the same site, fed from its own canal. Other mills and tanneries followed as the land near the falls was cleared and building progressed. The War of 1812 interrupted development, actually reducing much of the area to ashes; the years afterward witnessed rebuilding and a resumption of growth. By 1845 there were two canals supplying water to a variety of mills located on or near the river.

Ground was broken in 1853 for a larger canal farther upstream. Work on the mile-long Hydraulic Canal progressed for over a year until it was suspended for financial problems. Reorganization and capital infusion allowed work to resume, and on July 4, 1857 water flowed through the canal for the first time. The Civil War years and continuing financial difficulties delayed canal completion, and it would be until 1875 before the first true use of the canal could occur. The Gaskill Flouring Mill became the first canal customer, using a head of 25 ft, less than one-eighth of the total head available from the river. The canal was sold at auction in 1877 to Jacob Schoellkopf, who proved more capable of developing the canal to a greater potential. By 1882 the canal was supplying five mills, a plating works, and the Village of Suspension Bridge water works, which was pumping drinking water from the canal.
Canals shaped Niagara Falls
Canals built from the upper river were an obvious means of bringing water to factories and mills. The first were modest in size and constructed close to the river. Over time, larger ones were constructed farther back from the brink of the falls. The Hydraulic Canal was enlarged a number of times to accommodate plants in the Mill District; it eventually became 100 ft wide and over 10 ft deep.

A much more ambitious project began on May 23, 1894 when ground was broken for the Model City power canal. It was to bring river water down the escarpment, 11 miles away to Model City, a "planned community" with its own power production, factories, central heating systems, etc. Financial difficulties and the success of long distance electrical transmission (decoupling the location of factories from water supplies) doomed the project, and it was abandoned. The short length of canal that was completed changed ownership and uses through the years, until it would become known by the name of the 1890s project promoter William T. Love. The name Love Canal will elicit an emotional reaction in many for decades to come and reminds us how far we have progressed environmentally.

During the same time (early 1880s), the Hydraulic Canal also started to supply water for electrical power production. The first two power stations produced mainly direct current power for local mills, chemical companies, and the trolley system. Alternating current amounted to only 10% of total production and was used for industrial applications as well as commercial and municipal lighting. By the turn of the century the High Bank Area was crowded with heavy industry, wedged between homes, hotels, and restaurants.

Transformer house of the E. D. Adams Generating Station

Eclipsing the early Hydraulic Canal power stations was the E. D. Adams Generating Station, whose construction started in 1890. In a hydraulic "reverse image" of the Schoellkopf facility, the two powerhouses of the Adams Station were built on the upper river, above deep excavations housing twenty-one generating units. Tailwater from the generators passed into a 7000-ft tailrace tunnel, which conveyed the water beneath the city to the lower river, near the present-day site of the Rainbow Bridge. The 18-ft by 21-ft tunnel required over 3 years to build, used more than 16 million bricks in a four-course lining. It also cost the lives of twenty-eight workers.

Left to right: Adams Tailrace Tunnel Outfall, observation tower, American Falls, Horseshoe Falls

The project was started before a decision had been made regarding the means of distributing the power produced by the plant. Mechanical and pneumatic means were considered briefly until electricity was chosen. A further choice pitted direct current against alternating current (AC). Despite the infancy of the technology, the potential benefits of long distance AC transmission led to its selection. George Westinghouse was awarded the job to construct generators based upon the theories and patents of Nikola Tesla.

Work on the first powerhouse allowed the production of 25-cycle AC power for commercial use in August 1895; by October three of the first ten units were available for the growing demand for electricity. One year later, on November 15, 1896, the completion of transmission lines permitted the use of Niagara Falls Power in Buffalo, the first long-distance transmission of electricity. The units of the second powerhouse were placed online over 2 yr, from 1902 to 1904, bringing the total rated output of the station to 80,000 kilowatts (kW).

On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley toured several sites in Niagara Falls, including the Adams Generating Station and was reported to be quite impressed with the new facility. Cut-away models of the power plant were also constructed for public viewing at the Pan-American Exposition, held in Buffalo but originally planned for Cayuga Island in nearby LaSalle. Upon returning to Buffalo, however, McKinley's day did not go so well, and resulted in a new President for the country, Teddy Roosevelt.

The availability of power allowed industry in the city and the region to flourish. A third power station fed from the Hydraulic Canal was started in 1903 and completed in 1913. Energy-dependent factories started and expanded as power production grew twenty-fold between 1895 and 1916. Chemical, metal, paper, and abrasives factories blossomed, as did the secondary businesses necessary to support the plants and the workforce.

Power portal and statue of Tesla on Goat Island

Power production again grew in the 1920s with the expansion of the Schoellkopf station. Now exceeding the hydraulic capacity of the canal, the station required building a deep tunnel to parallel the canal. The Schoellkopf Tunnel ran 4300 ft from Port Day on the upper river to the pre-existing forebay above the gorge and measured 32 ft in diameter. The expansion and subsequent improvements increased the station capacity to 365,000 kW. By the late 1920s it had also relegated most of the Adams Station's generating capacity to standby status, which proved a fortunate alternative 30 years later.

Rise of PASNY

The face of hydropower generation in Niagara Falls was forever changed on June 7, 1956. On that day a rockslide above the Schoellkopf station destroyed half of the plant and almost three-fourths of its generating capacity. Theories state that a September 1946 earthquake created a fissure, and 10 years of water seepage progressively opened the joint and triggered the slide.

Planning had already been in the works for a newer larger hydroelectric plant near Lewiston. The loss of low-cost power and the effect on businesses, workers, and residents helped to spur the plans toward reality. In early 1958, construction contracts were issued by the newly formed Power Authority of the State of New York. The principal facilities included a new intake structure on the upper river, twin conduits (4 mi long and measuring 46 ft by 60 ft), a storage reservoir to match fluctuating electricity demand, and varying water withdrawal conditions, the Lewiston Pump-Generating Plant, and the Robert Moses Power Plant. The Robert Moses plant is located directly across the river from Ontario's Sir Adam Beck station.

The Robert Moses Power Plant of PASNY

The first power delivery from the project occurred in 1961, with full power (exceeding 2 million kW) available by late 1962. A portion of the power is allocated for resale to industries that were served by Niagara Mohawk power from the Schoellkopf plant before 1957 and is referred to as "replacement power." Although its price has increased over the past 40 years, it remains well below the market rate for power.

Changes related to the power project included the decommissioning of the Schoellkopf and Adams stations, the filling of the Hydraulic Canal, and the construction of area bridges, parks, roadways, and the Robert Moses State Parkway. The remains of the Schoellkopf Station may be seen from the Canadian side, and the Adams Station Transformer Building still stands on Buffalo Avenue. The stone entrance arch to the Adams Station Powerhouse One was relocated and rebuilt as the Power Portal on Goat Island and faces the statue of Tesla, the developer of polyphase alternating current generation.
International treaty governs falls' flow    Larger and larger water withdrawals from the Niagara River for power production brought the realization that mankind was becoming capable of significantly influencing the appearance of falls, raising concerns about the scenic and environmental impacts of a highly diminished flow. The first treaty between the United States and Canada was signed in 1909, and set limits on the quantity of water that could be diverted (20,000 ft3/sec for the U. S., 36,000 ft3/sec for Canada).
The present treaty, created in 1950, stipulates that at least 100,000 ft3/sec must pass over the falls during the day from April 1st to October 31st. During summer nights, and around the clock in the winter, no less than 50,000 ft3/sec must be available for the falls. Early morning summer visitors to the lower river will appreciate the large river level change that occurs over a brief period of time. The diverted water is shared between Ontario Hydro and PASNY.

Water quality management

As was the case with many other settlements growing into small cities, early water quality management consisted of disposing of sewage and wastes via storm water sewers. Garbage was even discharged directly to the river, principally by trough (the Walnut Avenue garbage chute) and by pipe (the Bath Avenue garbage chute). Storm sewers serving the villages of Niagara Falls and Suspension Bridge could merely discharge over the gorge and into the lower river, but as the villages grew to support larger populations and more industry, a series of tunnels were built to serve areas farther and farther from the river. Construction began in earnest in the 1890s following the villages' consolidation and continued through the 1920s, coinciding with the expansion of electrical power production. They ranged from the short (several block-long) Garfield Avenue and Cleveland Avenue Tunnels to the 3-mi Falls Street Tunnel (FST). The tunnels allowed the construction of combined sewers throughout the area, which discharged into the tunnels at drop shafts.

Hundred-year-old outfall of Falls Street Tunnel, facing west toward river

Waste loadings grew as the city grew, eventually causing legitimate concerns about human health, wildlife effects, and tourism aesthetics. Incidents, such as showering Great Gorge Route passengers with garbage and sewage one July afternoon when a plugged pipe suddenly cleared, earned more visibility for the problem. During the 1930s these concerns coincided with federal programs to provide meaningful work for the unemployed. A plan was developed to construct the city's first wastewater treatment infrastructure. It consisted of the following:


Gorge Interceptor (GI)    built to receive flow from the sewers previously discharging directly into the river. Running 3.3 mi from the FST near the American Falls to the Garfield Avenue Tunnel near Devil's Hole, the GI conveyed flow to the new treatment plant 1 mi downstream from the American Falls.

Regulator Structures    which were built at each intersection of a pre-existing sewer and the GI. The regulators allowed all dry weather flow to pass through and into the interceptor while diverting excessive wet weather flow to the river through the original outfalls.

Ashland Avenue Sewage Treatment Plant (AASTP)    which received flow from the GI and provided treatment before discharge. The plant was built in the gorge, halfway to river level, to permit flow into and through the plant without pumping. Treatment processes included coarse screening, fine screening, and chlorination. Solids and sludge were incinerated onsite, with the resulting ash flushed to the river (!).

Diversion Sewer,    constructed through the industrialized Buffalo Avenue corridor, accepted cooling water and storm water, reducing the flow received at the new AASTP. The sewer discharged into the Ice Shaft at the partially idled Adams Generating Station on Buffalo Avenue.

Treatment at the AASTP began in 1938. Although meager by today's standards, the facilities were a leap above direct discharge and represented a modest beginning on the road to proper environmental protection. The AASTP functioned through the 1940s and '50s, but by the late '60s it became obvious that the level of treatment it could provide was inadequate, particularly in view of environmental enlightenment and the progressive tightening of pollutant discharge allowances. The deteriorated state of the plant, the need for additional treatment processes, and a physical limitation on expansion space in the gorge all favored building a new treatment facility on a new site. After considering combinations of municipal/industrial/joint treatment facilities on candidate sites, it was decided to construct a single treatment plant on Buffalo Avenue, on a site formerly home to the International Paper Company and the Adams Generating Station. To build the treatment plant, other improvements were needed, including:


Constructing the Southside Interceptor (SSI)    Tunnel, paralleling the Falls Street Tunnel. A new series of regulators would pass dry weather flow to the SSI and plant, while rejecting or diverting wet weather flows to the FST.

Demolishing the AASTP and in its place building    the Gorge Pumping Station (GPS), which would receive wastewater conveyed by the GI.

Constructing the Gorge Forcemain,    which would link the GPS to the new Buffalo Avenue treatment plant.

Rehabilitating the Adams Tailrace Tunnel,    which would receive treated effluent from the new plant and Diversion Sewer flows, conveying the combination to the lower river.

Other incidental work addressed rerouting sewers and removing infiltration and inflow.

Gorge Pumping Station (20 mgd) on lower Niagara River, site of former Ashland Ave. sewage treatment plant

The construction of the SSI tunnel was marred by an accident reminiscent of the Adams Tailrace Tunnel construction project 80 years earlier. On August 29, 1975, five workers were killed inside the SSI when a dead-end section of tunnel suddenly flooded, trapping and drowning them. (Earlier on that same day a 3-year-old boy was killed in a fire, and three other people were killed in the lower river when an experimental recreational raft flipped over in the whirlpool. The triple tragedy of fire and water locally earned that day the title of "Black Friday.")

Since 1994, the plant has achieved its stringent effluent pollutant discharge limits with a 99.992% compliance rate.

The specific treatment processes selected for the new facility were a direct result of leaving the industrial waste combined with commercial and residential wastewater. The quantity and variability of organic and inorganic industrial loadings were considered to proscribe conventional biological treatment processes. Like the AASTP, the new plant employed only physical and chemical unit processes. They include coarse screening, pH adjustment, chemically assisted (coagulation-flocculation) sedimentation, granular activated carbon adsorption and filtration, chemical oxidation, and disinfection. Biosolids are lime stabilized prior to landfilling. Spent carbon is periodically regenerated onsite in a multiple hearth furnace. The 48 mgd facility started treatment operations in 1977, and today is the largest of its kind in the country. The second largest is a few miles upstream in North Tonawanda.

Success with the carbon system was short-lived. Structural failures in the underdrain system required taking the carbon offline in 1978 and triggered a prolonged investigation. Legal suits followed and eventually led to a filter-by-filter rebuilding project coupled with other plant changes and improvements. The carbon filters were restarted in 1985. Since that time, the 5 million lb carbon system has performed well, removing pollutants and contaminants to part-per-billion levels. At the conclusion of the legal entanglements in 1993, USEPA referred to the plant as "the most successful operation of any of the municipal carbon treatment facilities anywhere in the country." One year later USEPA was kind enough to say that "If everyone on the Great Lakes were to operate a facility of this caliber, the Great Lakes would be far, far cleaner." Since 1994, the plant has achieved its stringent effluent pollutant discharge limits with a 99.992% compliance rate.

 Web extra: The connection of wastewater and power

City of Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant (Horseshoe Falls visible at upper right)

Evolution of the area and future challenges

Although the wastewater treatment plant has only been operating 23 years, the nature of its business has changed and evolved. Economic conditions and industrial pretreatment regulations have markedly reduced the pollutant loadings coming into the plant. This shift has severely eroded the facility's economy of scale. As users reduced their discharges to lower their bills, treatment costs are also reduced but not proportionately. Fixed costs were redistributed to the remaining users, increasing their sewer rates. The higher rates, in turn, justify discharge reduction plans by additional customers, pushing rates higher yet. This effect is referred to as the "downward spiral" and has caused what was to have been an expensive plant for many users to become a very expensive plant for fewer users.

Feed pumps of the carbon system at the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant

Facility staff have worked on many fronts to stop the spiral and stabilize, then lower, sewer user rates. Measures have included modernizing and replacing some of the original plant equipment to lower maintenance or operational costs, downsizing through attrition, redesigning chemical usage strategies, bidding chemical purchases with other municipalities, modifying equipment to lower energy costs, and changing the carbon regeneration strategy to use lower-cost energy, reduce chemical oxidizer usage, and better match current demands on the carbon treatment system. The accumulation of efforts has allowed a modest reduction in industrial user rates for FY 2000, while the commercial and residential user rates are virtually the same as they were 10 years ago.

Since the basic reasons for selecting the physical-chemical (P-C) process no longer exist, consideration is occasionally given to a process conversion employing conventional biological methods. If the city were starting from ground zero this might have merit, but the existing investment in the P-C plant complicates the analysis. Efforts to reduce the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs have so narrowed the gap between P-C and biological, the 20-yr debt service from a conversion project would exceed the anticipated O&M savings. Even this assumes that the simplest and least expensive candidate process (biological aerated filters) would adequately meet discharge limits tailored to the P-C process, a shaky assumption at best. It appears that carbon treatment will remain in Niagara Falls' foreseeable future.

Filter Control Console for carbon system at Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant

That being the case, plant staff are trying to make better use of the unique treatment abilities of the plant. In a slow and deliberate manner, nonresident waste streams are being identified and approved for discharge to the plant. In this way, the nonresident loadings are beginning to replace some of the resident industry loadings lost over the past 15 years. Revenue from the hauled waste customers has increased from $3,500 in 1996 to $165,581 in 1999; revenue for 2000 is on track to exceed $200,000. Despite the specter of aging infrastructure needs and more restrictive discharge limitations, improvements in facility performance and the recapture of some of the economy of scale provide hope for a brighter future.

What will the future bring?

In a similar manner, the City of Niagara Falls has changed considerably since its industrial heyday of half a century ago. Shifting national and local economic conditions and much more stringent environmental restrictions have greatly diminished heavy industrial activity in the area. The "trickle-down" effect has also affected the service and support sectors of local business, as well as the residents themselves: the current city population of less than 60,000 has declined to what it was in the 1920s on the other side of the curve. The population demographics have also shifted somewhat toward the elderly and economically disadvantaged.

These forces will preclude a recovery of industrial activity to historical levels. Instead, a refocusing on other commercial areas provides a clearer path to stability in the local economy. Tourism and entertainment, cornerstones for the area's early growth, remain prominent factors for its regrowth. The expansion of retailing, transportation, light manufacturing, and small business components will also be necessary to fill the void left by the heavy industry.

The Niagara Falls area will continue to build on its strengths to attain greater achievements. Our geographical strength has been, and will continue to be, a large quantity of high quality water in an attractive and unique setting. Perhaps it is a blessing that rampant expansion with meager environmental controls was just a phase that the area has outgrown. The maturity earned through experience is invaluable to applying what we've learned, avoiding the mistakes of the past, and appreciating that which has been right in front of us all along.

 Web extra: Evolution of Niagara Falls' public water supply


Scenic and Historic Niagara Falls. Edward T. Williams. 1925.

"Immortal Niagara." Official City Information Bureau. 1950.

Niagara Power, Volumes I & II. Edward Dean Adams. 1927.

Niagara Falls, New York: A City is Born, A City Matures. Hamilton B. Mizer. The Niagara County Historical Society. 1991.

Images of America: Niagara Falls. Daniel M. Dumych. 1996

Images of America: Niagara Falls Volume II. Daniel M. Dumych. 1998.

Niagara Power Project Data - Statistics. Power Authority of the State of New York. April, 1965.

"The Niagara Falls Story." Robert E. Game. Public Works. December, 1994.

"Transforming Sewage into Money." Richard R. Roll. Clear Waters. Summer 1994.

Infiltration and Hydraulic connections from the Niagara River to a Fractured-Dolomite Aquifer in Niagara Falls, New York. Richard M. Yager and William M. Kappel. Journal of Hydrology. 1998.

Infiltration Removed by Grouting. Richard R. Roll and Roger P. Hurlbut. Public Works. December, 1991.

Management and Facility Changes for an Evolving Customer Base. Richard R. Roll, William G. Bolents, Jr., and Albert C. Zaepfel. Accepted for the 73rd Water Environment Federation Conference and Exposition, Anaheim, California. October 2000.
Richard R. Roll, PE is the environmental engineer for the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Facility. Phone 716-286-4992.


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